Game of Thrones (2011)

What 'Game of Thrones' Didn't Tell Us of Jon Snow's Death in A Dance with Dragons

By: Domonique Cox-Salberg

Mutiny at Castle Black

Jon Snow‘s death and swift resurrection as portrayed in the show and the events that follow are far from how it is depicted in the books. There is so much compelling material that did not make it to the small screen. On television, we watched as Jon’s ideas about joining forces with the Wildlings (after rescuing them from Hardhome) and his stories about the White Walkers drive the rest of the Night’s Watch past their breaking point, where he was perceived as a traitor. What ensued was almost everyone at Castle Black conspiring against him and driving a knife into his gut.

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Consequently, the radical, highly pragmatic Jon Snow was no match for an organization rooted in dogma and tradition. And seeing as the books are not finished, Jon’s final chapter may have the same ending as the show. Still, nearly everything else surrounding this event is different in both mediums. The timing of his death, the inciting incident, the culprits, clues, and the distraction are all different. Additionally, many characters are still alive. All of this and much more will be broken down in this article.

A Dance with Dragons Chapter 69: A Dire Introduction

In the fifth novel, A Dance with Dragons, the assassination like the show reveals Jon being stabbed by the Night’s Watch members. Only in the books, this happens due to a different incident and time frame as the events on the show are somewhat scrambled in order. Too, Stannis, Selyse, and Shireen are all alive. Stannis marches to fight Ramsay at Winterfell, while his wife and daughter wait for him back at Castle Black. In fact, the chapter in which Jon dies begins once Selyse says let them (Wildlings at Hardhome) die to Jon, who, of course, wants to save them—much to the disagreement of Castle Black members.

Selyse tries to convince Jon it is a mistake, but he insists with all due respect, the Wall is his and thus his decision. In response, she gives a cryptic answer saying she agrees it is Jon’s decision, but that he will answer for this when Stannis comes back and a series of other choices he has made. Besides Jon believing he is doing the right thing, everyone around him is becoming upset and hostile.

The Incident That Provokes Jon’s Death

Therefore, Jon’s choice to leave the Night’s Watch is the specific incident that motivates them to attack their Lord Commander. Following the battle at Winterfell, Jon gets a letter from Ramsay Bolton alleging that Stannis has been killed and Mance Rayder (still alive in the books) has been captured. Whether it is true or not, we do not know since the battle is not witnessed from anyone’s perspectives, only the “Pink Letter.”

Ramsay’s letter enrages Jon enough to hold an emergency meeting where he announces his plan to lead an army to Winterfell to kill Ramsay. The only thing is that the Night’s Watch says a vow to take no part in Westeros’s politics—a direct and specific act of treason and one that leads directly to the decision to assassinate Jon.

Melisandre’s Fortuned Words

As Jon prepares to leave Castle Black, he is approached by the red priestess and shadowbinder Melisandre, who insist they must speak. She asks where his direwolf is—which may foreshadow Jon’s fate and indicate that Melisandre knows what will happen to him. In a previous Jon chapter, Melisandre essentially tells him what will happen in the future: 

“It is not the foes who curse you to your face that you must fear, but those who smile when you are looking and sharpen their knives when you turn your back. You would do well to keep your wolf close beside you. Ice, I see, and daggers in the dark. Blood frozen red and hard, and naked steel. It was very cold…”

That is why she asks about Ghost to make sure he is by Jon’s side, for his fate may rely upon it. Later she tells Jon not to save the Wildlings at Hardhome, and that soil has the right of this Lord Snow; and that in her flames, she sees that no one will survive it. Jon rejecting her visions, stating her fires have been known to lie. Moreover, additional foreshadowing is introduced when descriptions of Ghost behaving differently, such as lashing out at others of the Night’s Watch and not listening to Jon’s commands; Jon even notices that Mormont’s old raven is agitated, screaming “Snow, snow, snow.” It was as if they were trying to warn Jon of what is to come.

Bastard Letter

Still contemplating how he will help the Wildlings, Jon soon receives Ramsay’s “Pink Letter.” Angered by the message, he declares battle on Ramsay.

"Your false king is dead, bastard. He and all his host were smashed in seven days of battle. I have his magic sword. Tell his red whore. Your false king's friends are dead. Their heads upon the walls of Winterfell. Come see them, bastard. Your false king lied, and so did you. You told the world you burned the King-Beyond-the-Wall. Instead you sent him to Winterfell to steal my bride from me. I will have my bride back. If you want Mance Rayder back, come and get him. I have him in a cage for all the north to see, proof of your lies. The cage is cold, but I have made him a warm cloak from the skins of the six whores who came with him to Winterfell. I want my bride back. I want the false king's queen. I want his daughter and his red witch. I want this wildling princess. I want his little prince, the wildling babe.[2] And I want my Reek. Send them to me, bastard, and I will not trouble you or your black crows. Keep them from me, and I will cut out your bastard's heart and eat it."

Ramsay Bolton, Trueborn Lord of Winterfell

The false king is dead that Ramsay refers to is Stannis Baratheon, signaling whoever wrote this letter wants Jon to believe Stannis has already died. Nevertheless, this cannot be true since Stannis has not fought Ramsay, though Jon has no way of knowing the truth since he is not there. Jon then makes a divisive command and statement telling the Night Watch members to ride to Hardhome as he travels to Winterfell alone. Some men rose to their feet while Jon noticed others were slipping out of the back door, which did not bother Jon; he acknowledges oath-breaking is that one man’s burden to bear. 

Jon’s Assassination Scene in A Dance with Dragons

A commotion soon strikes in the yard when a terrifying scream echoes the winter walls. It turns out to be the wounded giant Wun Wun carrying and periodically ripping the limbs from the knight Ser Patrek’s body. Jon tries to calm his men and the giant down when a man suddenly unsuccessfully stabs his neck. Therefore, instead of a planned distraction like in the show when Olly runs into the Lord Commander’s chambers, claiming the Wildlings has information about Jon’s missing uncle, First Ranger Benjen Stark, the book death is much less rehearsed and more impulsive. In the arising chaos, watch members offended by Jon’s treason seize the opportunity to kill their Lord Commander.

Speaking of offended members, Olly does not exist in the books, and Ser Allister was not even at Castle Black at the time of Jon’s murder. In lieu, the men turn out to be a steward named Wick Wittlestick, but his dagger barely grazes Jon’s neck. Lord Steward Bowen Marsh is the first person to deliver Jon a fatal blow. A fervent and cruel twist of fate, given that Marsh was a longtime and loyal supporter of Jon’s — he was there when the young recruit took his vow in front of the weirwood and acted as interim commander after Jeor Mormont’s murder. Marsh truly believes Jon is destroying the Brotherhood and does not act in hate. Indeed, George R.R. Martin explicitly describes how Marsh is weeping as he stabs Jon. It creates a turn of events that make the scene evermore tragic and poignant rather than merely shocking.

It ends as Jon tries to reach for Longclaw, but his fingers had grown stiff, and a dagger stayed buried in his chest for which he wrenched it free in the cold night air. The wound was smoking. He then whispered, “Ghost.” Stick them with the pointy end, he thought. A third dagger took him between the shoulder blades. He grunted and fell face-first into the snow. He never felt the fourth knife. Only the cold.

Is Jon Snow dead in the books?

David Benioff and D.B. Weissinterpretation of this scene and considering the medium’s visual nature made Jon’s death seem much more final than it ever did in the books. The camera gradually panned in on Jon’s face as the blood swelled and saturated the screen. His breathing stopped, and his eyes became frozen and unfocused. However, the book’s description leaves Jon’s fate dubious at best. The last lines leave it open to interpretation if he does die or not. 

“Jon fell to his knees. He found the dagger’s hilt and wrenched it free. In the cold air the wound was smoking. “Ghost,” he whispered. Pain washed over him. Stick them with the pointy end. When the third dagger took him between the shoulder blades, he gave a grunt and fell face first into the snow. He never felt the fourth knife. Only the cold.”

Based on the last line, “only the cold,” it still suggests feeling and consciousness, and some even theorize it could mean Jon is turning into a wight. But it also could be the last second before death takes him. 

Clues of Jon Snow’s Book Resurrection

So, just like the show, Jon’s resurrection is expected by fans based on several clues, where some were just mentioned. Others include an event from a couple of chapters before his death where Melisandre tells Jon of the prophecy of Azor Ahai, the legendary warrior who will rise again to lead the people against the armies of the White Walkers. “When the red star bleeds and the darkness gathers, Azor Ahai shall be born again amidst smoke and salt to wake dragons out of stone.” Now compare these to the quotes from Jon’s death scene:

“[Ser Patrek’s] cloak flapped in the cold air. Of white wool it had been, bordered in cloth-of-silver and patterned with blue stars. Blood and bone were flying everywhere.”

“He found the dagger’s hilt and wrenched it free. In the cold night air the wound was smoking.”

Then his last words calling for his wolf, “Ghost,” could mean he will warg into him. Like all the Stark children, Jon is a natural warg, making the assassination attempt the best time for his consciousness to go into his direwolf. Another clue involves Melisandre and that she never leaves the Wall in the books as she does in the show. She has warned of Jon’s danger and is ready for something terrible to happen, which is comforting for fans since we know her power is notably strong at the Wall.

Plus, as we understand from Thoros of Myr and Beric Dondarrion, R’hllor sometimes gives his priestess the power of resurrection. It is not a power that Melisandre has demonstrated before, but possibly she will find and conjure that ability within herself to bring Jon back from the dead as she did in the show. And we cannot forget how Lady Stoneheart, even being a character (and how she dies), closely foreshadows the idea of Jon’s resurrection and that it is certainly possible within the world of Westeros.

In the end, only The Winds of Winter will answer for Jon’s fate.

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